I am nearly finished with “The Things They Carried,” and I know some people might be wondering why the hell it’s taking me so long to read one book. Well… I’ve been doing a pretty good job of letting life get in the way. If I don’t make a point to take time to read, I won’t. I will let my mind vegetate.
Plus, I really needed to watch some war movies.
It’s very provocative, reading some pretty anti-war material, but then watching movies that while gory in content, still carry a resilient theme of glorified killing. And that these movies actually make me feel good. Really good.
Last night I watched “We Were Soldiers,” which had a good chunk of gruesome death (particularly when a soldier is fire bombed and trying to pick him up causes the melted skin on his legs to slide off.) However, there was still this overwhelming sensation of heroism with Mel Gibson (starring as Mel Gibson!) playing the part of colonel torn apart by the death of his men, but ever the brilliant strategist and a man’s man. Worried and cautious, but never scared; never a coward. At one point he is directing orders from his men, is clipped by a bullet, and instead of crouching (which I assume would be an automatic reaction), he stands tall and shoots down his enemies. His sergeant’s character follows the same lines, standing while everybody else is ducking. He is motherfucking running and shooting at the surging enemy with a motherfucking pistol while everybody else has motherfucking M16’s or AK-47’s. I mean really. Of course, he doesn’t get shot either. It’s just like John Wayne in every Western he is in except for maybe “the Shootist,” or “The Cowboys.” (And I think he was in 84 different Westerns?: http://www.sptddog.com/sotp/duke.html)
Oh John Wayne, your voice is like honey flowing over metal nails to me.
I hate to admit, but that’s the real reason why I love war movies. The explosions, the violence, the death, the ridiculous defiance of death itself, and the ultimate triumph of the hero. It gives me such thrills. Every bullet streaming past is a hug from Jesus.
However, I am still in “The Things They Carried.” O’Brien has this style of repeating himself. It’s like a tapestry, and various phrases are colors he weaves in and out that weigh a metric ton on your sensations and impressions. He repeats, he repeats, he repeats. It bears repeating. He killed a man, Curt Lemon shining in the sun and soaring through the air, the shit field. As you read, it’s as if you are pulled into the thoughts of someone reliving the war. Every day, a new way, as if you replay it enough you might actually see what the truth is.
“The Things They Carried,” would be oversimplified to say it’s an “anti-war novel,” it’s not like Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.” It’s constantly in some sort of limbo land between reality, the moments of peace and terror and war. Reading it is the same sensation you get when you forgive yourself for something awful you have done, and then five minutes later can’t stand the effort of your breath.
You see, it’s not enough to say “war is hell,” and it’s certainly not enough to call war “a necessary evil.” This book is in the no man’s land between, and watching war movies right after reading it is like having your eyes opened to all the triggers that war movies know how to pull.
I still can’t help myself though, “Windtalkers,” “Platoon,” “They Were Expendable,” etc. I am in love with these movies. When I watched these movies as a little girl, I wanted war. I wanted to fight and to be a hero. My dad and my grandfather were the biggest heroes because they were veterans of foreign wars. I wanted that good and wholesome, honorable fight, and when I watch these movies, they still make me feel the same way. It’s as if they tell me, “you will never live until you see men die by the hands of each other.”
Of course, reality dictates that war is not always so honorable. My favorite goddamn movie is “Inglourious Basterds,” for Christ’s sake. Watching that German soldier get his head bashed in for doing something to protect the lives of his men, was gnarly. I am repelled and drawn in, simultaneously.
And there is the other matter of the phrase “lives of his men,” that gets thrown out in every war movie. The responsibility of it, which is supposed to crush lesser men and raise up men of valor. I don’t know about that.
I should probably take a break from war movies so I don’t do something stupid like actually join the military. I don’t tend to believe that our government picks the best fights, and I certainly don’t want to die for oil. Besides, my situational awareness is shit. I’m probably better off studying wars than joining one.
I should start watching kung fu flicks again, so every broken bone from a well placed kick will be like a hug from Siddhartha instead.